The most often asked question of us from family and friends not in Nigeria is one of security. Many have read the reports of kidnappings and pipeline sabotage which dominate international news reports. Most of this activity is well south of Lagos, down on the river delta, centered near the city of Port Harcourt. There is an active dispute between the people of the state in that area who believe that they were promised a larger fraction of the area’s oil wealth from the Nigerian Federal Government. That, coupled with the opportunity for immediate riches from O&G theft and corruption, has fueled a serious security issue for all people in that area. Because of that, Shell expatriate staff who are located in Port Harcourt, are not allowed to leave the security of the Shell protected residential area or work office complex without a Shell provided armed security force escort. This is unfortunate, because the Port Harcourt area is a lovely and vibrant community that is now off-limits to Shell staff.
Since a number of my staff live and work in Port Harcourt, I have had the fortunate occasion to visit the area for a few days at a time. The trip starts with an hour’s ride from our residence in Ikoyi to the Lagos airport, to the new Domestic Terminal which is as modern as any elsewhere, and which is a huge improvement over the International Terminal on the other side of the airport.
After a pleasant, but brief flight (less than 1 hour), on a modern 737 Aero airline plane, one disembarks at a small domestic airport outside of Port Harcourt. Shell, (as does each major company), provides a small bus with hired Federal security in front and behind to escort the passengers the 1 hour trip from the airport to Shell’s secured Residential Area.
Shell’s Residential Area, (RA), consists of a large Clubhouse with sports and entertainment facilities, a restaurant and bar, a 9-hole golf course, a modern school, the Patani Guest House, and tropical bungalow 3-4 bedroom houses for staff to reside in.
Unfortunately, since the security issues began 1-2 years ago, many expatriate families with children have moved to Lagos, and the RA is now only half occupied. However, it is wonderfully quiet and peaceful, and a great place to go for a walk or jog, or to socialize with friends at the Club. Each morning, Shell provides escorted busses from the RA to the Shell Offices in the Industrial Area, (IA). These offices are a collection of buildings, infrastructure and storage on a protected campus, where all operational, technical and non-technical staff work.
At the end of the work day, the expatriate staff return to the RA via escorted busses for another evening with family and friends at camp. Items needed for everyday living are brought to camp by approved vendors, or can be secured in town by sending local Nigerian staff from camp into town to shop for you. All I can say about the town of Port Harcourt, (PHC), is from what I can see from the bus, and what staff that used to be able to get out and about have to say: that it was a vibrant and friendly society, where people mixed freely.
Few Oyinbo, (white people), wander the streets of PHC any longer, since the risks are now considered too great for the possibility of them being taken and held in exchange for money. There are many in Nigeria pushing for a solution, but those profiting from the current situation are also strong. For the sake of the Nigerian People, let us all hope a solution is found soon.